For the past three years I have ended my classes the same way. My students pick up their beloved/hated writers notebooks and reflect. In Louisville I had longer class periods, so my students wrote EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Many had to get a new notebook 3/4s of the way through the year. Here, since my class time was cut by roughly 20 minutes, my students write at least twice a week, sometimes three times. That is still a lot of writing. So during this last assignment they have much to reflect upon. Many can't believe their improvement. Many can't believe that they wrote about "HIM!" at the beginning of the school year. Many find stories they had meant to go back and finish.
I walk them through the first part of their reflection. I ask them, "What are some of your favorite entries? Where did you IMPRESS YOURSELF with your writing? Where did you write something that you didn't know was in you until it was on the page?"
I then share a bit from Natalie Goldberg where she writes, "If you burn to write, you have to find time to write…We give a lot of names to our excuses, to why we don't want to write or why we're afraid to. Finally, if you want to write, you have to just shut up, pick up a pen, and do it…To write feels better than all the excuses." We talk briefly about how this writing practice forces them to "just shut up and write." Many share that at the beginning of the year they could barely force out a paragraph in the ten minutes that were allowed because they thought the story had to be perfect the first time, or because they were afraid to be creative. "But now," they say amazed, "NOW in the ten minutes I can write a page and a half or MORE if I'm really feeling it!"
I love to see them realize that yes, somedays you just want to write about how mad your sister made you or why your sheep are frustrating animals or about the algebra test you are extremely nervous to take next hour…. but SOMEDAYS you write about a magical castle that has kept the brother you never knew you had locked away for ten years and the journey to save him, OR you write a story from the perspective of a homeless person, or the perspective of your grandmother, or you write about that birthday party when you were 8 years old and you realized that sometimes friends can be mean but your family is always there…SOMEDAYS you write from the heart, and not just your head.
After this discussion I have them write the following on a piece of paper: This year I have become a writer. I have become a writer because… Then I ask them to take the next couple minutes to finish that sentence. I tell them to finish it well and finish it with the truth that they know they ARE a writer.
No one wrote: I'm not a writer. This is lame. And for that I was thankful :) Some of them were honest and shared that they still struggle with it, but that they are improving and know it doesn't have to be perfect every time. And here are some of the other entries:
I have become a writer because I am a new man. The past nine months I have changed. I have grown in the mind. I watched a person that I love deeply die. I watched a love I had for a girlfriend leave. But I have learned how to mold my feelings into words.
I have become a writer because I can write about things I thought I couldn't write about.
I have become a writer because the time was provided for me to.
I have become a writer because it makes me feel like I have someone who listens. Because my teacher has helped me.
I have become a writer because I practice everyday.
I have become a writer because my writing says so. No more sitting there staring at a wall trying to think of something to write…I can do it now!
I have become a writer because I want to show them what they can't see.
I have become a writer because when I pick up a pen and begin to write I feel every wall coming down, every door coming unlocked, and every secret exposed.
I have become a writer because it lets me escape from all the yelling. I write because it's the only way I feel safe. I became a writer to tell my story.
I have become a writer because my teacher has me write in a notebook for ten minutes before class. Writing has helped me get my feelings and thoughts out, and I would just like to say thank you, Mrs. I---.
I have become a writer because I am no longer scared. Writing is easier than I thought and I have no more excuses on why I shouldn't write.
I have become a writer because I know my writing has meaning to someone out there. It might be across the street or across the world, but someone out there needs to hear it.
I have become a writer because Mrs. I--- has been there and pushed me into becoming a better writer. [After this activity this particular student gave me his notebook and said, "I think I should leave this notebook here and you can show other students and say, "This notebook started out with just a guy writing stuff but he turned into a real writer! Look!" :)]
I have become a writer because Mrs. I--- pushed us to write. After awhile it seems natural and somehow therapeutic. I can push my feelings or ideas into a story and finally stop getting bothered by it. I'm happy she pushed us to write. I appreciated it a lot.
This is one of my favorites because this was a kid who fought it often…but occasionally would BLOW our minds when he would share something he wrote. His response is fairly accurate and TOTALLY him: I have become a writer because I had to do it to get my grade, and I figured if I have to do it I might as well write a good one every now and then. :-)
I have become a writer because writing is full of new worlds and uncharted lands.
I have become a writer because my stories are no longer boring. When you read them it doesn't look like a third grader wrote it, and I have learned how to come up with new ideas easier.
I have become a writer because it brings me peace when I hear the soft sound of pencil on paper. Writing makes me feel better, and I just love it!
I have become a writer because I had great encouragement from my teacher. I have become a writer because it felt right when my words hit the paper and it sounded better there than coming out of my mouth. I write because it helps me see who I really am.
I have become a writer because my teacher inspired me to write the best I can.
I have become a writer because it is in my blood. I write without pause and I can't stop myself sometimes.
I have become a writer because I feel the need to. It makes me feel better and whatever I do with what I write is up to me. I can burn it so no one ever sees. I can share it with the world. Or I can save it to look back on. This year I have become a writer because it makes me…me.
I have become a writer because it helps me be an overall better person not having unwanted emotions or troubles floating around inside of me.
I have become a writer because I submerged myself into the world of writing and the art of poetry and came out on the other side as a fresh, new man with a different view on writing.
I have become a writer because I no longer dread writing in my notebook. I can pick it up, open it, and just start writing without even thinking.
I have become a writer because I no longer look at it as an assignment, but something to do for fun. I have learned I enjoy writing more now than what I ever had before.
I have become a writer because I have graduated from just drawing letters. This past school year has helped me learn how to write for fun, not just be forced. I've also learned that it's okay to not write a masterpiece each time I pick up a pencil.
I have become a writer because I've become something better than myself through my writing.
Sigh. I love summer. But I sure love my job, too. :)